Why the Ontario government went funny for cannabis PSAs

Who: The Government of Ontario, McCann (creative), PHD (media), Soft Citizen (production) and The Perlorian Brothers (direction).

What: A new awareness campaign about the dangers of driving under the influence of cannabis, using the tagline: “Barely high is still too high to drive.”

When & Where: The ads were published last month and are running online. Other campaign elements include social, banner ads on sites like Leafly and BuzzFeed, ads in restaurants and bars, and music festival sponsorships including Veld and Boots & Hearts.

Why: The campaign has to connect with cannabis consumers—particularly millennials—to remind them that people who are high can’t make rational decisions about their ability to drive, without suggesting that consumption itself is wrong (the Ontario government sells cannabis after all). “The idea that being a little stoned and getting behind the wheel is OK is both pervasive and untrue,” said Josh Stein, executive creative director at McCann Toronto in a release.

How: The four 15-second ads use show a diverse group of average-looking individuals (ie. not “stoners”) explaining the differences in their behaviour when they are really high and when they are barely high.

Even when they are barely high, their behaviour is ridiculous and they are clearly incapable of driving. “The humour in the TV spots is quirky, but the subject is the very human behaviour of judging one’s level of being high,” said Stein. “We want to plant the seeds of what we know is going to be a much longer cultural conversation. It took years and years of advertising to curb drunk driving.”

Why humour: McCann concluded humour would work best because its research showed that “finger-wagging, dire warnings, images of death and dismemberment worked for anti-smoking and drunk-driving campaigns, but would not communicate with an audience of millennial pot-smokers.”

Quote: “We could have easily shown why smoking and driving is a bad idea. Instead we focused on what the real problem was—kids just don’t appreciate the fact they don’t know when they are too high to drive,” said Stein.

David Brown